Th_Prsrv in Kemah, Texas

Tartare is often on the rotating menu.

Located three blocks from Kemah Boardwalk and the Galveston Bay, Th_Prsv (pronounced “The Preserve”) feels far from urban Houston, although it’s just a 45-minute drive from downtown. Kemah’s chain stores and amusement park rides offer no clues as to the fact that the world’s only Choctaw/Thai restaurant is there, tucked away behind a winery announced by a green wine bottle statue that dwarfs the front entrance in height. 

As soon as you enter the dimly lit space, you know you are somewhere special. The menu, which is entitled, From Native Americas to Modern Thai, looks like it would fit right at home in either the National Museum of the American Indian or the nearby Asia Society Texas Center. It even includes a Choctaw language glossary to help navigate the 15 courses that change with the seasons. 

The restaurant is a collaboration between James Beard award-winning chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter, who hails from Central Thailand, her husband Graham Painter, and chef David Skinner, who has long been dedicated to showcasing pre-colonial Chocktaw cuisine. During the three-hour tasting menu, all three partners take turns introducing the different courses. 

A full year of research went into the menu, which is meant to take diners on a culinary journey from 2400 B.C. to the present. Each subsequent dish gets a bit more complex, with Thai and Choctaw dishes being equally represented. The only fusion is in the first (pickled) course. Drink pairings are equally thoughtful, with a wine list that leans heavily on Indigenous producers.

The 14-day dry-aged duck was inspired by chef Skinner’s great-grandmother and is one of the standout items that will likely stay on the menu for all four seasons. Chef Painter refers to her pad ped, or wild boar belly, as indicative of her “unapologetic Thai approach.” Ron pu, or crab curry, is a sweeter dish with jumbo lump crab meat served over crispy coconut rice. 

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